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How Archerfish Kill: A 'Watergun' Hunter

Aug 30, 2015 01:45 PM EDT

Archerfish, use water gun! In the fictional world of Pokémon, the popular children's cartoon and video game series, various collectable monsters are capable of firing pressurized water at one another to do battle. In the real world, you're unlikely to encounter such a fanciful ability, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

The archerfish, a unique fish found in the mangroves of southeast Asia and northern Australia, actually fires jets of water at hovering insects to render them immobile. The tasty morsel then falls to the water, where it can be snatched up.

It's understandable that such a unique form of hunting would attract the attention of biologists and animal behavior specialists. That's why Morgan Burnette and Miriam Ashley-Ross, a pair of researchers at Wake Forest University, decided to closely examine the incredible forces that propel this water-pistol predation.

Using high speed video cameras, the pair was able to break down captive archerfishes' attacks on prey frame-by-frame at 500 frames per second. The results were published in the journal Zoology. (Scroll to read on...)

Anyone who's been sprayed with a Super Soaker can tell you that a water jet is much more powerful the closer to the gun you are. Logic would then dictate that the animals are limited to how far a 'killing shot' can reach. However, the amazing archerfish seems to be able to one-hit-KO even high-flying prey.

"The force of their jets of water isn't decreasing by much when they shoot at a distant target," Burnette said in a statement, "but the fish consistently chose closer targets to ensure a food payoff because, ultimately, it's about whether the fish is going to eat or not that day."

In other words, despite the fact that the fish are equipped with one heck of a sharpshooting water-gun, it's just easier to hit low-flying bugs.

Burnette adds that this isn't because the fish are lazy. When prey is struck, it falls to the water's surface where any nearby archerfish can snatch it up. In other words, being an expert marksman isn't what fills bellies; prudence does.

"Choosing a closer target, then, reduces the amount of time that a bystander has to respond to get the dislodged insect," Burnette explained.

Ashley-Ross added that the archerfish behaves more like a baseball outfielder than a marksman or Pokémon. Sure, they're famous for hitting their targets with a well-place water jet, but they chose that target only after considering where the prey will fall.

"Our bias is to think that fish are just dumb and don't have a whole lot going on and that's not true," she said. "The fish are making very sophisticated calculations."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

 - follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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